Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Who Knew?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released an interesting study that highlights the complexity of Americans' religious beliefs, especially Americans' willingness to believe in things officially at odds with their stated religion. For example: The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories. A new poll by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination -- even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizeable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.

Further, Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. For instance, 24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation -- that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one-in-five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic.

Most interesting to me, as a Pagan and ecofeminist, was the study's finding that: [Twenty-six percent of adults say that] they believe in spiritual energy located in physical things such as mountains, trees or crystals, and 25% profess[] belief in astrology (that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives). Fewer people (16%) believe in the "evil eye" or that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone. Many people have pointed out that the modern tendency to see the Earth as dead matter and matter as fallen helps to allow people to pollute the Earth, Air, and Water. For increasing numbers of people to see mountains and trees, for example, as imbued with "spiritual energy" -- which the study seems to not define -- has to be a good thing.

In total, upwards of six-in-ten adults (65%) express belief in or report having experience with at least one of these diverse supernatural phenomena (belief in reincarnation, belief in spiritual energy located in physical things, belief in yoga as spiritual practice, belief in the "evil eye," belief in astrology, having been in touch with the dead, consulting a psychic, or experiencing a ghostly encounter). This includes roughly one-quarter of the population (23%) who report having only one of these beliefs or experiences. More than four-in-ten people (43%) answer two or more of these items affirmatively, including 25% who answer two or three of these items affirmatively and nearly one-in-five (18%) who answer yes to four or more. Roughly one-third of the public (35%) answers no to all eight items. Sixty percent of the population is a surprisingly large group, especially when you consider that most xian churches would say that, for example, consulting a psychic or believing in astrology is a sin. It's interesting to contrast this with the control that, for example, the catholic bishops exercise over our political life.

The survey doesn't appear to have examined how willing Pagans are to adopt some beliefs/practices from mainstream religion, but that would be a fascinating study, as well, I think. My own experience is that many Pagans are willing, for example, to revere the Virgin Mary as a manifestation of the Goddess, to accept that the religious practices of various religious groups, such as speaking in tongues, can raise energy that can be directed towards a given purpose, etc.

Where would you come out on the survey? How many of the things they survey have you done/do you believe in?

Picture found here.

1 comment:

Thalia Took said...

How would I answer their questions?

Have I been in touch with the dead? Not on purpose, I'd have to say. Probably, if dreams and nearly tripping over a ghost cat who wasn't there count.

Ghostly experience? Check. Hard to avoid when you live in a 250 year old house that was the boyhood home of a murderer in the 50's.

Consulted psychics? Yeah, several times, and one of them was quite definitely of the fraudulent no-actual-info variety, alas. But then I read my own Tarot, too.

Do I believe there is spiritual energy in trees, mountains, crystals? If there's spiritual energy in anything there is spiritual energy in everything, so yeah. Duh.

Astrology? Happens to be not my thing. Don't know if I do believe in it or not, actually. It's too abstract for me to get a handle on, personally. I need faces, Gods, to the concepts.

Reincarnation? Probably. Still fighting that one as a skeptic, but I'm probably fated to accept it sooner or later.

Do I believe in yoga as a spiritual practice? Well I don't even really understand the question. Yoga is by definition a spiritual practice, you know, the whole yoking together of spirit + physicality. That's kind of like asking if I believe in the color blue. Do I practice yoga as spiritual? Sometimes, I guess. Define 'spiritual'. Cause it looks an awful lot to me like just life.

Evil Eye? Which they define as casting curses, which is, by the way, NOT my understanding of the Evil Eye. I thought it was an involuntary thing, caused by jealousy or something, not a purposeful curse. I suppose that since I believe that spells and magic are real that I must therefore assume bad spells and magic are real as well. What an oddly unbalanced question. I tend to think, though, that bad spells don't work so much. I've always thought that cursing people doesn't really work because these things can only hit home on a psychic or whatever level and that level has much to do with will; and so if it is against a person's will (as I would think a curse is) it's just not going to take root. Don't know where I got that, just an intuition on my part. But cursing doesn't make sense to me.

Have I had a religious or mystical experience, which they define as "a moment of sudden religious insight or awakening." Which I think is a pretty fucked-up way to define it--by their definition I'd have to answer no. Since apparently my slow and steady daily mystic experiences and visions don't count if they aren't dramatic. Bah!